If you want the ultimate outdoor camping experience away from designated campgrounds, then dispersed camping is right for you. So, what is it?

Dispersed camping is a term that describes camping outside of designated campgrounds. Often called wilderness camping or backcountry camping, it involves overnighting where there are usually no amenities such as picnic tables, toilets, or fire pits. (Although, you may find that some popular dispersed camping sites do come with primitive toilet facilities and/or fire pits.)

Why Go Dispersed Camping?

After a long winter spent indoors, both Colorado residents and visitors love to enjoy outdoor recreation such as hiking, backpacking, climbing, fishing, canoeing, and kayaking. But dispersed camping gives you an entirely new way to experience the outdoors, with freedom and privacy to commune with nature. As an added benefit, wilderness camping generally does not require a permit. And, because the Centennial State’s parks and eleven national forests cover millions of acres, there are literally hundreds of places to camp. You can go somewhere new every weekend!

The Importance of Leave No Trace

When dispersed camping on Colorado public lands, it’s crucial to follow leave no trace principles, including:

  • Be prepared by planning ahead.
  • Walk and camp on durable surfaces that can withstand the tromping of boots and tents.
  • Whenever possible, camp where the ground has already been impacted and use existing fire rings rather than making new ones.
  • Don’t camp at or close to trailheads.
  • Look for a dispersed camping spot at least 100 feet away from a water source.
  • Pack it in, pack it out. Take all of your trash out with you.
  • If you need to wash things, use biodegradable soap and do so at least 200 feet from waterways. Never pour your soapy water into streams, creeks, or rivers.
  • Bury human waste at least six inches deep in a cat hole and pack out your toilet paper in doubled-up plastic bags. If you bury it, it can get disinterred by critters or the weather. Leave what you find – Don’t go around collecting wildflowers, plant specimens, birds’ eggs, etc.

Minimize The Impact Of Campfires

dispersed camping fire

  • Know what land you intend to camp on, check for any local fire restrictions, and follow the rules for that area.
  • Aim for small fires. You don’t need a big conflagration to stay warm or to get dry.
  • Only use downed wood. Never chop down small branches, saplings, or small trees. These won’t burn well anyhow and are a valuable part of the ecosystem.
  • Always make sure your campfire is completely extinguished before you leave. If it’s still glowing, put water on it until you can handle the embers. Never leave a fire burning unattended. As Smokey the Bear says, only you can prevent wildfires!

Fourteen-day Camping Limits

All Colorado national forests have a fourteen-day stay limit. This regulation is meant to prevent excess damage to the environment.

Need Ideas On Where To Go For Dispersed Camping?

As we discussed, Colorado has a plethora of locations for dispersed camping.  If you are curious about where you can or cannot camp, try looking up areas on the interactive map of Colorado provided by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). By simply clicking on the area you are interested in visiting, you get recommendations of where to camp, as well as links to district offices where you can find helpful park rangers.

All that being said, certain areas have special rules and permit requirements for dispersed camping.  For instance, Rocky Mountain National Park is one area that does require a camping permit and a fee.

Another popular site with special rules for wilderness camping is the Arkansas River Headwaters Recreation Area, or AHRA. If you want to camp along the Arkansas River, a helpful resource is the AHRA interactive map for dispersed camping. Two of the regulations you must abide by to camp here are:

  1. Unless there are provided toilet facilities, all overnight campers are required to use a portable toilet device and carry their waste out of the AHRA.
  2. Fire containers must be elevated up off the ground and have at least a two-inch rigid side.

MER – Outdoor Gear Consignment Store For All Your Dispersed Camping Needs

Are you itching for a new adventure in the Colorado wilderness?  Then give dispersed camping a try this summer. And before you go, come see us at MER, we can supply you with all the gear you need to fulfill your outdoor dreams.

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